Projecting Panthers final key roster spots

With starters on the bench, Carolina used six field goals to win the final tune-up

Sam Sharpe—X02835
Sep 1

Panthers kicker Graham Gano got plenty of work in the final game of the preseason, Thursday night in Charlotte.Gano made six of seven field goal attempts, accounting for all of the Panthers points in an 18-6 win over Pittsburgh.As is customary in the fourth preseason game, Carolina and Pittsburgh each gave 25 players the night off, including just about every starter on both sides of the ball.Not only did Panthers quarterback Cam Newton not dress for the game, but his backup, Derek Anderson also had the night off. Third-string quarterback Joe Webb played the entire game, completing 17 of 29 passes for 200 yards.With the starters off for the evening, the drama of the game surrounded the battle for the final few spots on the Carolina roster. Here’s what you need to know:Coming out party: First-round draft pick Vernon Butler had his best game of the preseason. Playing against second teamers, the defensive tackle was able to apply pressure in the backfield and make plays, showing some of the athleticism that made the Louisiana Tech product worthy of the No. 30 pick. Butler used a spin move to beat a double team and make a tackle for a loss, flashed some foot speed as he ran down a running back to make a tackle from behind for no gain and ran 10 yards to go from pressuring the quarterback to making the tackle on a screen pass.How did the new guys do? In addition to making the first cuts, the Panthers added two players to the roster since the last game. Carolina traded for former Browns punter Andy Lee and signed former Giants safety Stevie Brown. Lee punted three times. He averaged just 33 yards, but placed two of his punts inside the 10 and instilled a confidence in that position that has been missing all preseason. Brown, signed the day before the game, played on defense in the second half, making one assisted tackle.Jeremy Cash update: The rookie from Duke had a game that was a near replica of his previous preseason outings. He was on special teams from the start of the game and played on defense in the second half, seeming to be around the ball on every play. Cash tied for the team lead in tackles. He had a big hit on a pass breakup, met ballcarriers at the line for tackles on two plays, and forced a fumble tackling a receiver. Is it enough to earn a spot on the roster? It’s hard to ask more of him than what he’s produced this preseason.Running back battle: Cameron Artis-Payne and Brandon Wegher appeared to be in a duel for the final backfield spot. Artis-Payne had 77 yards on 18 carries, Wegher 42 on 11. Finding running room has been a struggle for Wegher all preseason, and Thursday was no exception. Just over half — six of 11 — of his carries were for more than one yard. For the preseason, he had just 15 multi-yard carries out of 33 rushes. Artis-Payne, on the other hand, rushed for two or more yards on 25 of his 33 preseason rushes, including 13 of 17 on Thursday.Tight end competition: Scott Simonson and rookie Beau Sandland also may be battling for one spot. Both had moments in the game, but it’s hard to give one a clear-cut edge. Sandland was flagged for holding. Simonson dropped two passes. Both tight ends had the guy they were blocking get loose to make a tackle for no gain. Both had whiffs on pass defense that led to pressure on the quarterback. If there was any area where one player had an advantage, it may have been run blocking. Simonson was blocking at the point of attack on several positive Artis-Payne runs. Sandland only had one play where his blocking helped spring a rusher.Wide receiver update: Brenton Bersin couldn’t have done much more to wrap up a spot on the roster. He had six catches for 89 yards, including a 37-yarder that featured 20 yards after the catch. He also made a tackle on a kickoff. Bersin also had a block that sprung Kevin Norwood, his prime competition for the spot, on a wide-receiver screen. Norwood’s only other catch was an 11-yarder over the middle where he took a hit and stayed down, eventually leaving the field on a cart.Roster trouble: Two players who have struggled this preseason didn’t do much in their last-ditch attempts to hold on to a spot. Daryl Williams started at left tackle and was abused by Steelers pass rusher Arthur Moats. Twice, Moats blew past Williams to get sacks on third downs. Another time, Moats flushed the quarterback, leading to an incompletion after first beating Williams. Robert McClain, who struggled to move up the depth chart at cornerback, seemed to get most of his snaps at safety. He did pressure the quarterback on one safety blitz.Keep hope alive: Ryan Delaire had a big game pressuring the quarterback. At least three times, he either flushed the passer from the pocket or forced him into throwing the ball away. On Pittsburgh’s two-point conversion attempt, he got a half sack as the ends converged on quarterback Bryn Renner.